‘Emily has come back to us’: moment nine-year-old is reunited with family after Hamas kidnap

27 November 2023, 08:46 | Updated: 27 November 2023, 09:14

Emily Hand was released by Hamas over the weekend
Emily Hand was released by Hamas over the weekend. Picture: Social Media

By Sam Rucker

This is the emotional moment a nine-year-old Irish girl was reunited with her older sister and two dogs after being kept hostage by Hamas for 50 days.

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Emily Hand was feared dead, murdered by Hamas gunmen on 7 October following their deadly assault on Israel, sparking a wider regional conflict. Her father had feared her dead and said it was a better fate than being taken hostage by Hamas.

It was later revealed she had been snatched by the terrorist organisation. The child celebrated her ninth birthday in captivity.

She was filmed over the weekend, for the first time since she was kidnapped and held captive for over a month.

Israeli Government releases footage of hostage hand over

The footage shows Ms Hand finally being reunited with her sister, Natali Hand, as they hug for the first time since the conflict began.

Two pet dogs can be seen running towards their long-lost owner before Natali Hand kisses her younger sister on the cheek.

Emily Hand was one of 20 hostages to have been released on Saturday night after a deal was struck between Israel and Hamas, which will see a four-day pause in the violence and Hamas releasing over 50 hostages.

Her release eventually came about after Hamas accused Israel of breaking the terms of the deal and delaying the release by several hours.

Thomas Hand, the youngster’s father, had put her daughter's name in the public spotlight, giving an emotional response to the initial news she was killed on 7 October.

It was later revealed she was in fact alive and Mr Hand has been campaigning for her freedom ever since.

Emily Hand's father campaigning for her daughter's release
Emily Hand's father campaigning for her daughter's release. Picture: Getty

He has now said his daughter is “broken”, but has promised to throw her the “biggest birthday party ever”.

“We have been waiting for far too long for this moment,” Mr Hand told The Mirror ahead of her release, “Every day has been a long and painful living nightmare.… my Emily is coming home at last, broken but in one piece.

“Emily is so wonderfully sweet and innocent – and I hope and pray that this awful experience will not have taken that away from her.

“I expect she'll be very angry with me to start with because you've been thinking, 'Where is Daddy? Why has Daddy not come to save me?

“But the great thing is she cannot blame the dog at all – and I'm absolutely sure the dog will get the cuddle first before me.

“She really is a special girl who loves everything in this world – even the big snails that crawl around our kibbutz. Emily used to put them on her arms and hands and stroke them gently.

“I'm sure we'll be able eventually to cure all the physical problems that may be inflicted on her… but the things in the mind are gonna take much more time and effort.”

Read more: Irish-Israeli girl Emily Hand, 9, whose father feared her dead, among hostages released from Hamas captivity

Ms Hunt was on a sleepover at a friend’s house the night of the attack and was taken by Hamas in her pyjamas.

Her sister received a call from Ms Hunt, saying she thought the house was on fire.

Natali Hand said: “She was asking me why I didn't take her to Australia. Our bodies hurt from crying, we have no tears left.”

Read more: 'What she endured was unthinkable': Biden reacts to release of first American hostage - as 17 more released by Hamas

In a statement released after the reunion, her family said: “Emily has come back to us. We can't find the words to describe our emotions after 50 challenging and complicated days.

“We are overjoyed to embrace Emily again, but at the same time, we remember Raya Rotem and all the hostages who have yet to return.

“We will persist in doing everything in our power to bring them back home.

“We want to express our gratitude to everyone who helped and supported us during the last 50 days until Emily's return.

“We appreciate the unwavering support as we continue our efforts for the safe return of all.

Approximately 200 hostages still remain in captivity in Gaza.

As part of the hostage deal, Israel will also release Palestinian prisoners, many of whom and women and children.

The Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar described Emily's release as an "enormous joy and relief", adding that "an innocent child who was lost has now been found and returned".

The Israeli foreign minister criticised these remarks, saying on social media: "Emily Hand was not “lost”, she was kidnapped by a terror organization worse than ISIS that murdered her stepmother".

Mr Varadkar responded: "The vast majority of people will know what I meant."

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